Watching the spectacular return of the Crew Dragon capsule over the weekend, reminded me of a few things I love about the space program.
First is the amazing appreciative and acknowledgement culture that exists within NASA. Back when the ISS was under construction and a friend and I would watch it happening live, we would often joke with each other to say, “they’re thanking each other again.” And they do thank each other, often and in self-effacing ways, always claiming that the other team or partners “had the hard jobs” and “made our tasks easy.” It’s really great. I spoke about it here under the vastly different context of movie credits, but in a way it is the same thing: Everyone in the program knows, deeply, that they are part of a larger whole and that it takes everyone in that whole putting in maximum effort to pull off a successful mission. Space is hard™, and things can go awry very quickly (and often have, with visibly disastrous consequences). And so they value everyone’s contribution and, even more so, celebrate the amazing thing they are accomplishing by working together in a collaborative fashion. They remove the “but” out of a phrase like “I am but a…”, and instead recognize that their role, and everyone’s role, is vital. They take no one for granted and they acknowledge it and each other with profuse thank yous.
Second is that within the various space programs a glorious blend of newness and traditions. For certain, space is the new, with sci-fi rockets and slick technology and exploration to be had and discovery to be made and so much learning. But the whole thing is also coupled with deep, and fun, traditions, whether they be wholly enclosed within the space program, such as a traditional pre-launch meal (or peeing on the wheel of the transport vehicle), to something with even deeper roots, such as the ringing of the bell at the docking or departing of a ship. Neither the new nor the old is better than the other, nor is one less or more necessary, both from a technical as well as a human standpoint. And it is just that – as humans, we can and are often at our greatest when we synthesize the two, bringing forth that which empowers us and others and leaving behind that which does not and causes harm. We exist in multitudes, and this is one of them.
And lastly is that multitude, that of the international, global, and humanistic endeavour that is slipping the surly bonds of earth, to dance among the stars and the glory of the universe we inhabit on our tiny blue mote of dust.